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Legends of the Maori

“‘Try Not the Pass!’ The Old Man Said.”

page 300

“‘Try Not the Pass!’ The Old Man Said.”

The ancient Maori route from Westland over the Southern Alps into the plains of Canterbury, by way of the Pass discovered by the adventurous woman Raureka (now called Browning’s Pass) at 5,700 feet, started from the shores of Lake Kanieri (properly “Kani-ere,” meaning the act of sawing greenstone), hence the Pass itself was named by the West Coast natives after the lake. The following song, composed many generations ago at Arahura, alludes to the difficulties and dangers of the old-time passage of the Alps, and was addressed to travellers setting forth on the mountain journey:—

E atu tu te tarahaka
A tuhoro ki Kaniere.
E Kahu-e!
A Purua ra e!
Pokipoki te weruweru,
Putawake te maipi.
E Aro e!
A Kume ra e!
Whakatahuri ki Poutini,
Kei mate koe i te ruha e,
Hiakaitia koe e nga pori.
To eat your flesh.


See yonder in the dawning light
The lofty mountain pass
Beyond Kaniere’s lake.
O Kahu, O Purua!
Cover well your garments
(For the streams are deep)
Lift high your feathered weapon;
O Aro, O Kume!
Turn back to Poutini,
Lest ye perish of weariness,
Lest those base tribes crave

Poutini is the classical or symbolical term for the West Coast, because of the tradition which speaks of the green jade-stone found there as Te Ika-a-Poutini—”Poutini’s Fish.”

Travellers stripped to ford the swift mountain streams, and the singer bids them have a care for their cloaks and their garments, which they fastened on their heads for the deep river-crossings.

Some of the tribes on the eastern side of the range were enemies of the West Coast people, hence the warning about cannibal foes who might be encountered.